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Learning Curve Free Lessons Draw Another Generation Of Novices

The ski lessons at Lookout Pass are the same price they were 57 seasons ago when they first started: free.

Ski fashions have changed, the equipment is sleeker and there were no snowboards in the early ‘40s when the resort first began offering the lessons.

Children who learned how to ski here decades ago are now bringing their own kids.

The exuberance of kids getting their first taste of swooping down the hill, toppling into the snow, then trying again was evident Saturday, the first day lessons were offered. Youngsters between 5 and 18 years old can sign up.

“I like going down because it’s fun,” said Kendra Winnick, 5 “and three-quarters,” who strapped on skis for the first time.

Her instructor, volunteer John Lynn, got down on hands and knees, showing her how to dig her edges into the snow to keep from sliding sideways.

He’s no stranger to the program.

“I grew up in Wallace,” Lynn said. “This is where I learned to ski.”

For the same reason, he brought his daughters to Lookout Pass Free Ski School.

Dean Cooper, general manager of Lookout Recreation Inc., expects between 900 and 1,100 children to take advantage of the program this year. More than 45,000 children have learned to ski with the free lessons since the program began.

“It’s fun to watch the kids get better through the years. They come and they’re bumbling with their ski gear and later they’re competing on different mountains,” Cooper said.

The 20 to 25 instructors are mostly parents of children taking the lessons.

“A lot of it (instructing) is just picking them up and wiping their noses and keeping them laughing and smiling,” Cooper said.

No one in the ski school is paid.

“It’s all just out of the goodness of their hearts,” said Dave Gray, president of the program.

Dedicated instructors, like Jack Cowley, have been volunteering for years, long after their own children have outgrown lessons.

Cowley began teaching kids to ski in the mid-1970s, after his family moved to the area. Five of his six children took the lessons. Three later became instructors themselves.

It’s that kind of progress Cowley loves to see.

“You see them start as beginners who don’t have much of an understanding and then, before you know it, they’re off teaching lessons,” he said.

Nicholas Caswell, 8, began his third season of the lessons in Cowley’s class.

“It’s fun,” he said. “Learning is fun. You can always get better at skiing.”

Or snowboarding, for that matter.

With the increasing popularity of that sport, the ski school began offering snowboarding lessons a few years ago.

“I haven’t skied since I started snowboarding,” said volunteer instructor Janet Andrews.

“I love teaching. I love the sport. I want kids to learn it and enjoy it forever.”

Andrews had a mob of kids in her beginner class Saturday.

Melissa Davis, 10, said she started snowboarding because “skis look complicated.”

Andrews said she enjoys teaching young people.

“Kids are immortal. They’re so brave. That’s what’s fun about teaching them.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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